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Kremlin Watchers Skeptical Obama-Putin Summit Will Yield Breakthrough

A recently announced summit between the presidents of the United States and Russia is not expected by most Kremlin watchers to yield significant improvements in the troubled relations between the two nuclear powers, the Christian Science Monitor reported on Wednesday.

The two world leaders agreed to hold their summit when Russian President Vladimir Putin called to congratulate President Obama on his re-election. No date has yet been set for the event.

"Disagreements between the U.S. and Russia on the bilateral agenda are too deep-seated and complicated to allow for any big breakthroughs, no matter how friendly the coming meeting between Obama and Putin may turn out to be," Kommersant newspaper columnist Sergei Strokan said.

Though Obama saw some notable progress during his first-term effort to "reset" ties with Moscow, particularly in the successful negotiation and ratification of the New START nuclear arms control accord, efforts to improve relations further have stalled out amid Russia's heated opposition to the White House plan to deploy missile defense systems around Europe.

Moscow has issued multiple warnings it could deploy military countermeasures to neutralize the planned U.S. antimissile systems if its concerns that the technology will threaten Russian strategic nuclear forces are not suitably addressed. The two nations' longtime collaboration in securing Soviet-era WMD materials through the Cooperative Threat Reduction initiative is also in jeopardy, as Russia has announced it does not intend to renew the Nunn-Lugar program accord when it expires next summer.

"It comes down to mutual trust, which is absent," Strokan said. "Putin may wish to build a better relationship with Obama, but many of the things he does work the opposite way. ... You may say we no longer needed USAID or Nunn-Lugar, but the abrupt ending of those projects produced a very bad taste, and undeniably hurt the actual, existing relationship.

"Putin may feel like he needs to change the atmospherics, show that he's a democratic leader and not an isolated autocrat. But it's just going through the motions," the foreign affairs writer continued.

Not everyone, however, views the coming summit as merely symbolic. They point to Obama's comments last March -- picked up by a live microphone -- that he would have more room to negotiate a compromise deal on missile defense after this month's elections.

"Now the elections are over, and (Putin and Obama) can move on to the next stage," former Putin adviser Sergei Markov said. "Putin views Obama soberly, and sees him as a man who keeps his promises. Obama realizes that Putin has very strong capacities of leadership; in other words, he's a man who can make deals," he continued.

"The bad period in our relationship is over, and there are objectively very good possibilities for a new beginning," Markov said.

NTI Analysis

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  • U.S. Nuclear Weapons Budget: An Overview

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